Article: Southern Renaissance
WillPower has only been in town for a couple of hours, but it’s already apparent that it’s going to be a long night. William Washington has been working feverishly for this day: A showcase of his singer Nikkiya at the New Brookland Tavern accompanied by
Columbia-based produced WillPower and singer Nikkiya get national attention for South Carolina.
WillPower has only been in town for a couple of hours, but it’s already apparent that it’s going to be a long night. William Washington (or by either moniker WillPower or Supahot Beats) has been working feverishly for this day: A showcase of his singer Nikkiya at the New Brookland Tavern accompanied by his industry friends. Washington feels tonight is particularly most important since they both have strong stomping grounds with Columbia, South Carolina origins.
“It’s important for this show to be successful, because this city is responsible for our existence. We really want to show our people at home the progress that we’re making and that we’re making things happen.”
The things that Washington maybe referring to is the amount of placement his musical backdrops have made in the past year. Working with Yelawolf -the newly signed phenom on Eminem’s Shady Records- Washington has his production on the bulk of the major label debut, ‘Radioactive’, selling over 41,000 units in its first week. Washington produced nine songs on the album and helping the album reach number 27 on the Billboard 200 charts. Washington, along with Nikkiya Brooks (with her project ‘Speakher’ that Washington handled the entire task of production) has been featured on other releases ranging from Tech N9ne to Wiz Khalifa. But according to both Washington and Brooks it didn’t happen over night.
We’re now leaving New Brookland Tavern and heading over to the local radio station Hot 103.9. There’s an on air interview that’s scheduled, like nowish, and we continue to talk in the car as Nikkiya handles the wheel.
Nikkiya Brooks, a stunning and alluring woman, is as major label ready as an artist can get. Whatever the hell and “it” factor is, she has it and then some. On the way to the radio interview, both producer and singer talk about the work that went into getting them international recognition.
“I just really want people to hear our story and get inspired, because it inspires me. We both moved to Atlanta in 2006 to get our feet wet,” Brooks explains. Washington went to Atlanta with pitching his independent music show Independent Music Revue and was on the air for six weeks before sponsors and investors stepped away leaving them both without a place to stay. “We were both sleeping on a concrete floor in a loft office downtown Atlanta. We were there from October 2006 until March 2007,” Brooks confesses.
“In the mornings we had to be out of the offices before anyone renting another office in the building showed up. The friend’s office we were staying in didn’t want us to be seen brushing our teeth or showering, so if we didn’t do it before that morning, we were out of luck,” Washington adds.
When I asked Nikkiya what gave her the faith to stick with Washington during these times, her response was simply: “It’s in his name. Will-power. I saw the God in him. I didn’t trust him per se, I trusted the God I saw in him.” Over that time the duo (with an interaction more like siblings than co-workers) parted ways with Brooks coming back to Columbia getting two degrees (Political Science and a Masters in Community Counseling) and Washington vowing to leave music production alone and going strictly into video directing and editing.
What brought the two of them back?
Washington straightforwardly replies: “Yela.”
“The first time I met Yelawolf was in New Jersey at Sugar Hill records. I was in the lobby and saw this white dude in there by himself. He asked me what I do; I told him I make beats. I asked him what he does, and he said he raps. Then he asked ‘wanna make a record?’” Washington recollects with a slight grin.
The duo did more than a record, and eventually recorded an independent modern day classic with ‘Trunk Music’ (and eventually retailing as ‘Trunk Music 0-60’). Yelawolf (nee Michael Wayne Atha), an Alabama native in a genre of music that thrives on being involved with bigger cities, instantly clicked with the Columbia based beatsmith. When asked about Alabama and South Carolina’s similarities in being overlooked for being a hip hop powerhouse forcing them to move to bigger cities, the similarities didn’t escape him.
“You gotta leave small towns in order to be heard, but the small town can never leave you. The object to it all is to be honest. This is where I’m from. This is who I am. My story is my own,” Yelawolf responds via e-mail. Washington’s production on songs like ‘Pop the Trunk’ became an instant banger with everyone from The Roots to Travis Barker doing live renditions of the song. Washington did the beat and the song ultimately got the attention of Eminem. Going from being on an indie to now apart of the label ran by one of the most famous artists in the world, Yela sees both sides of the fence.
“The pros [with being on a major] are that I have a platform to now do music on an international level. I get to work with my inspirations and to utilize the prestige of the name Shady and Interscope to get shit done. The cons are that people lose sight of the small shit. Labels don’t think about what matters personally to the artist. The problem with that is, what matters personally to me is what makes the music what it is. To them it’s the ‘business music’ and to me it’s the ‘music business’. But I am fortunate to have my own wit to get things done right. It’s just the nature of it all. Adjustment is probably my worst attribute; I like it my way or not at all.”
In 2008, Washington says that Yelawolf contacted him to work on a song together and asking that Nikkiya be on the chorus. “Yelawolf was that glue that brought us back together. And with Nikkiya and I, it’s been no problems since then.”
Both Washington and Brooks sit in a small radio station as disc jockey H-Dub talk to Washington about his latest projects. If there was any stress that was apparent prior to the interview, we don’t see it now. Getting national acclaim is good, but hometown love is great and you can hear it.
The station plays several tracks off the Yelawolf album including the Washington produced ‘Throw It Up’ featuring Gangsta Boo and Eminem. Then shortly after Nikkiya hears her single ‘Cheater’ blasting through the speakers of the studio. There’s hardly any dialogue but her face is the definition of ecstatic.
We head back to the venue and it’s packed with local legends, music know-it-alls and most importantly family and friends of Will and Nikkiya. The bill consisted of the Symphony Crack Orchestra and Rittz (apart of Yelawolf’s Slumerican imprint) before Nikkiya touches the stage.
Transforming from the jeans and coat she had on earlier to the all black, boots and stockings that makes her cover magazine ready, Nikkiya controls the crowd. She performs records from her project (that’s now exceeded over 40,000 downloads on DJBooth.net and LiveMixtapes.com) and the crowd sings her songs like they are in heavy rotation at your local station (as they should).
After the show it dawned on me: There’s nothing for this city to prove to the national music market. We’ve arrived and to have Washington and Brooks as the city’s ambassadors ain’t a bad problem to have. South Carolina’s scene is just fine, it seems like everybody else needs to catch up. Don’t worry, they’ll get there.